How To Choose A Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Agency

bookkeeperquailInternet and Web Development

Nov 18, 2013 (4 years and 7 months ago)



APRIL 2010

How To Choose A Search Engine
Marketing (SEM) Agency


During the last four years, in both good and bad economies, Search
Engine Marketing (SEM) has continued to grow. According to
MarketingSherpa’s 2009-10 Search Marketing Benchmark Guide,
whether it’s in PPC (Pay Per Click) or in SEO (Search Engine
Optimization), the dollars spent by American companies on SEM has
consistently grown.

Even as marketing budgets have been cut, it appears that the SEM
portions of the budgets have either stayed the same or increased. If
there has been a shift in spending in SEM, it’s been more toward the
SEO side and away from PPC.

SEM agencies and consultants have also benefited from this growth.
Many new firms have proliferated across the country and beyond.
While very small companies still have difficulty justifying the hiring of an
outside agency for a long term contract, companies with bigger,
more complex and more ingrained marketing strategies have
traditionally looked to outside SEM firms for help and guidance. But
as they get more sophisticated about SEM and realistic about how
SEO and PPC can help them, they are also scrutinizing the ROI from
these SEM agencies. And that’s a good thing.

When choosing an SEM firm, there are several things you need to do
before you make any decision.

FIRST is to establish your own goals – what you hope to achieve
through SEM for your company.

SECOND is being realistic about your expectations.

THIRD is to determine whether to outsource or not. Once you’ve
accomplished these three objectives, and you’ve decided to find an
SEM agency that can help you reach your goals, the final stage is to
interview firms and ask as many questions as you can think of.

In this white paper we’ll not only give you the questions, but we’ll also
provide you with guidance on the answers you need to hear.

APRIL 2010

Establishing Goals

Every company’s goals are different. For a B2B company, your SEM
goal could be attracting more qualified leads. For a consumer
company, your SEM goal could be increased online sales. If you are
a new company, you may want your SEO to improve your brand
awareness. If you rely on PPC to drive traffic, you may want to
increase conversions and lower cost-per-acquisition (CPA).

Most important of all is making sure your SEM goals are fully
integrated with your overall marketing goals and strategies. If your
overall marketing goal is to be recognized the leader in your industry,
then you need to understand how your SEM goals will support that

There are, however, common SEM goals that companies seem to
share frequently. These are:

Increase quality traffic and conversion rates on your
Drive leads and sales cost effectively
Generate online sales, leads and/or registrations
Improve brand awareness

With the exception of the last bullet, all of these goals are easily
measurable (and there are ways to measure brand awareness, but
that’s another white paper). This is important because with
marketing budgets being as tight as they are these days, you need to
be aware of the ROI of your SEO and PPC.

Managing Expectations

You probably noticed that getting your listing to the first page of
Google is not one of the common goals listed. Getting your company
higher up the search engines will help you reach those goals, but it’s
not an end in itself. Furthermore, you need to be realistic about what
SEM can or can’t do in relation to your web history, your industry and
the level of competition.

Search rankings are highly competitive, and every day the
competition increases. Google spiders over a trillion websites each
month*. On most searches for your keywords, you compete with 1-
100 million other web pages to get to the top. It can even be hard to
get high rankings for keyword phrases that appear to be rarely
sought after.

APRIL 2010

This is all because more and more companies are becoming more
sophisticated with their SEM. They recognize the high ROI that SEO
can provide.

So what should your expectations be?

Simply stated, it should be measured improvement and ROI.

For SEO, depending on where you are currently in the rankings, it’s
going to take you months before you see an improvement. You’re
going to need to go through analysis of your website and keywords,
create a link building campaign and so on.

It could take 3 months before you see movement and 6 months
before you experience significant improvement.

For PPC, the key factors are ROI and qualified traffic. Anyone can
get you to the top of the PPC rankings. It just takes money. But if
your products costs $5 and you’re paying $100 for each click, you
won’t be in business very long. Furthermore, if you are a B2B
company and 95% of click-through traffic are consumers, your PPC
campaign needs to be re-thought.

What you should expect from your PPC is ongoing improvement of
your ROI. How you accomplish that is through a well managed
campaign that is constantly being tested, evaluated and adjusted.

To Outsource Or Not

Effective SEO and PPC are managed on a daily basis. In SEO
search engine spiders crawl and recognize new content on your site,
and often reward you by bumping up your rankings. In PPC,
competitors are constantly changing their bids and that has a direct
impact on your campaign.

Knowing that, here are some questions to consider.

Who will manage your daily SEO efforts and PPC
Do you have a budget for full time staff and paying their
Will you be measuring your efforts against your competitors?
Do you know what specific measurement tools you need, and
how to use them?

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Time and human resources are the biggest factors in deciding
whether to use an in-house solution.

Here are some pros and cons for in-house SEO.

Complete control over campaigns
Direct and daily interaction to allow instant changes
In-house expertise about the inner workings of your website
and search engines
Cost savings if you hire fresh out of college

Lack of measurement tools, expert knowledge and resources
It takes time to learn SEO
Lack of competitive analysis and resources across data
Increase in headcount and fixed overhead

Here are some pros and cons for hiring an agency.

No need to use internal staff/ resources so you can focus on
running your business
Wealth of industry experts for information and resources
across all data points
Total accountability
A partner to align with to achieve your business goals

Cost and the need to have a working budget
Takes time to find the right one to build the relationship and
Less flexibility to direct change in an instant
Potential lack of continuity when switching agencies


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Oftentimes, when you’re looking for an agency you experience
sticker shock from their quotes. After you’ve calmed down, here are
ways that you can manage your agency’s ROI and effectiveness.

• Key Performance Indicators like Achievement Index –
Measure the amount of metrics met or exceeded by the total
number of metrics provided on a weekly, monthly and
quarterly basis.

• Milestone and Indicators – Measure the total milestones
over the total amount of time allocated for the project.

• Formal Reviews – Measure and document the level of
performance and the required expectations on either a
monthly or quarterly basis.

• Budget Reviews – Measure the need to ramp up or ramp
down campaigns based on results achieved so far.

• Warranty & Early Termination – Measure the agency’s level
of competence and honesty in its dealings. Contracts you
sign should have some form of warranty to fix areas you as a
client are not happy about. It should also include some form
of early termination based on non-performance.

Another factor to consider is the size of your website and the
competition for keywords. The higher the number of pages on your
website that you need to optimize with content, the more time and
commitment you’ll need to make your SEO see measured

The more competitive your space is for keywords, the more you’ll
need to come up with strategies that will help you reach your goals,
and the ability to adjust them.


APRIL 2010

Questions to Ask a Search Engine Marketing Company

You are now ready to interview SEM agencies. There are hundreds
of questions you can ask. Here are the main ones you need to ask,
and what to look for in their answers.

1. Do you offer guarantees on performance?
Another way of asking this question is can you
guarantee rankings? The only honest answer is no.
You should agree on how performance will be
measured, and then evaluate the firm based on those
measurements. But also keep in mind, a good SEO
firm wants to get your rankings to the top because
they know that 68% of searchers never get beyond
page 1 of the search results.*

2. How do you charge?
There are different ways that SEM firms earn their
money. Some ask for a percent of media or a cost per
action. Others want a flat fee or an hourly rate. The
bottom line comes down to ROI. This is one answer
where you need to do the math to see which works
better for you.

3. Do you believe in educating your clients
about SEO and PPC?
Some firms are afraid of a well-educated client,
because they think they will take their business in-
house. Other firms believe that a well-educated client
can only help the cause. Think about it. The more you
know, the more the agency can help you reach your
goals. The more you understand the process, the
better able you are to convince others in your
organization why search marketing is so essential.

4. Do you have a proprietary method of
conducting SEO?
Every search firm has their own way of conducting
SEO. Many of them do it the same way. What you are
looking for is a company that fully understands the
complexity of SEO and is not afraid to think outside
the box.

*iProspect research study 2008

APRIL 2010

5. How do you evaluate or determine your
keyword recommendations?
This is what separates one SEO firm from another.
Good SEO firms should have in-house tools and
software that they refine constantly, so much so that
they can call it proprietary software.

6. Is your organization transparent? ie. Can I
come to your office? Will you show me how
your company works?
This is a nice way of asking if the agency personnel
works in their pajamas or not. It’s really up to you who
you want to work with, but with the proliferation of
SEO and PPC companies, you need to find out
whether the firm works in someone’s home office,
whether it’s a virtual organization, or one that has a
thriving office where people share ideas and solve
challenges together.

7. What is your approach to dealing with
Some firms want you to go away “and let them do
what you paid them to do” once they’ve signed you
up. Some want to work with you as partners. Others
go one step further into wanting to make you into a
SEM hero by working closely with you to make sure
that you exceed your SEM goals.

8. Can you give me a list of clients that I can
The answer had better be “Yes” with no hesitation.
The list should be extensive and include current as
well as past clients. Also don’t be afraid to ask for a
client that’s not on the list they give you. If you get a
client who does not give a rave review, give the
agency a chance to explain. There are always two
sides to a story, and you can learn a lot about an
agency when they are on the defensive.


APRIL 2010

9. Can you give me examples of taking a
company from low ranking to page one
If they can’t give you one, that means one of two
things; they are either very new to SEM and haven’t
got the track record, or they aren’t very good at SEM.
Fundamentally, what you are looking for are case
studies that present the challenges and show how the
SEM firm met or exceeded them.

10. How do you submit your clients’ sites to the
search engines?
Submitting your site to search engines is pretty
simple, so be a little wary of those firms that make too
big a deal about it. There are also services that say
they will submit your website to thousands of search
engines. That’s all well and good, but when you
consider the top search engines generate almost all of
the traffic to your website, do you need that kind of

11. How much link building do you do?
Two of the main pillars to successful SEO relate to link
building. These include inbound links and internal links
where you link pages on your website together and
group them by topic. There are many different ways to
build inbound links and it can’t be done overnight. It
takes a good strategy, a commitment to relevant
content and the ability to place links to your site and
other highly-regarded relevant sites, directories, e-
Zines, blogs, and press release syndication sites.

12. What is your range for monthly advertising
This gives you an idea of the size of the agency’s
clients and their expertise. If they have no clients that
spend more than $5,000 a month, are they able to
handle a client that spends $50,000 or more a month?
Conversely, if their smallest account is $50,000 a
month, will they pay enough attention to your $5,000 a


APRIL 2010

13. What tools do you use to manage your
search campaigns?
If the answer is one size fits all, they’re giving you a
clue about how they operate. Because there are so
many tools available to help manage natural search
and PPC campaigns, you want to have the tools
match up with the size and scope of your SEM. Plus
you want a firm that listens and adjusts and if they
only do it one way, that says a lot about their lack of
listening skills.

14. How many people work on an account at
one time?
You are hiring a firm, not an individual. If you wanted
only one person to work on your SEM, you might as
well go in-house. You also don’t want to have 5
people working on an account when two is all you
need. Find out how the company manages each
account, what the reporting methods are, how often
and what they will report to you.

15. What are bid limits and how do you
calculate them?
A bid limit is the maximum you can spend per click for
a particular keyword. They should be calculated on a
keyword by keyword basis. Beyond these basics,
firms will give you their formulas for calculating the bid
limits. See if it makes sense to you, and have them
continue explaining the rationale for their calculations
until it does make sense. After all, it’s your money and
your ROI. You have the right to know all the details
required to ensure your campaign is successful.

16. How do you test and measure results?
This is where the hard work on developing your
measurable goals pays off. Improvements in search
rankings are one way to measure your search ranking
results, but more important are measurable traffic,
conversion rates and quality leads. Also there needs to
be a way to track from where the sale or lead came and
a way to manage all of the tests that will show you how
to improve your conversion rates.


APRIL 2010

17. What is the range for active key phrases
you manage for clients?
This tells you how sophisticated the agency’s search
capabilities are. For PPC a large company might need
to focus on thousands of key phrases. Obviously this
is more difficult to do than focusing on a handful. But
for SEO, you want to focus on a smaller number of
key phrases. You’ll also want to know their philosophy
on short-tail versus long-tail keyword phrases, and
have them explain how this philosophy applies to your

18. How often do you perform key phrase
The answer gives you an indication about how they
will manage your account. Keep in mind, you want to
work with a firm that is constantly making the needed
adjustments to keep improving your rankings.
Because search engines frequently change their
algorithms and your competitive landscape changes,
you need to optimize your site in response to the
changes in search engine ranking criteria.

19. Have you worked in my industry before?
Some companies feel that only people who know their
industry well can help them with SEM. There is value
with working with an SEM agency that understands
your competitive marketplace. But ask yourself the
question – Would you prefer to work with an SEM
company that knows your business and gets average
results or with an SEM company that can learn about
your industry and consistently gets outstanding

20. Is it better to start with PPC or organic
It all depends on your goals. With PPC you can get
immediate results. You can also get data on which key
phrases work best - Data that you can then use for
your natural search campaign. You can start with
natural search but you won’t get any meaningful
results until at least 3-6 months.


APRIL 2010

Since your gains in SEO will be long term, the longer
you wait to start your SEO, the longer you’ll have to
wait for results. In the spirit of full disclosure, keep in
mind that SEM firms make more profit on natural
search than PPC, since most of the PPC money goes
for media buying.

If you want to dominate both paid and organic search
results, you should consider using both organic search
and paid search methods. The data you get from PPC
is unique and completely different from SEO and they
can both complement each other to enhance your
online strategy.

21. Do you have to alter my website at all?
The answer had better be “yes.” Making changes to
your website is critical to SEO. How much? That
depends on a number of factors, but find out the kinds
of things they could change (from Meta content to
keyword incorporation to site architecture and URLs
and increases in amount of relevant content).

22. How long until I start seeing results?
For PPC, you should start seeing results pretty
quickly. Whether they are the results you want or not,
is another question. But after a couple months your
PPC should be running smoothly, demonstrating a
positive ROI. For natural search you might see some
results in 3 months, but it’s more likely that you will
see substantial results by 6 months. It’s very
dependent on where you start from, the competitive
nature of your market, and size of your website.

23. How long have you been in business?
There are a lot of fly- by- night SEO and PPC firms.
Make sure you don’t hire one of them. Neither would
you want to hire a firm who says they have been doing
SEO for the last 15 years - Because SEO did not exist


APRIL 2010

24. Can you perform an analysis on my
competitors’ websites?
The answer should be “yes.” At a minimum they
should be able to find a keyword analysis of your
competitors – in other words, where you stand in
search rankings compared to your competitors.

25. Do you understand what it takes to create
sales conversion?
Keep in mind there are two critical parts to SEO;
finding and converting. It’s great if you can point
people to your website, but what good is it if they can’t
figure out your value proposition and you have terrible
conversion rates? Your SEM firm had also better be
expert at optimizing landing pages and A/B and
Multivariate testing.

26. Do you adhere to a search engine's posted
best practices, and have any of your clients
been blacklisted by the search engines?
Hopefully the answer is “yes” and “no.” The best SEO
techniques work in harmony with search engines and
operate within their parameters. The good news is that
the days of writing your website just for the search
engines and diluting your message in order to improve
your rankings are over. Search engines now reward
you both for making sense on your website and for
your relevance.

But there are still those practitioners who will push the
limits to give you faster results. That may work for a
while until the search engines find out you’ve been
tricking the system. At that point you’ll be penalized
and maybe even taken off the search engine's index.
It’s very hard getting back once you've been blacklisted.


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27. What type of reports do you create and how
often do you send them?
Make them show you their reports and go over it with
them until you fully understand the value of the
reports. You should expect monthly reports. Some
firms will give you overkill on reports, and while it may
look impressive, you are paying for them, and those
are dollars you’re not spending on SEO and PPC.

If the information in the reports helps support and
measure your goals, then they are worth it. Anything
else is overkill. [Earlier in this white paper we discuss
ways you can manage your agency’s ROI and

28. How will you measure ROI?
Whether you are a B2B or eCommerce company, it’s
all about conversions. The only difference is if it’s a
LEAD or a SALE. Transparent PPC reporting will
clearly show you how well your investment is
performing because you will be able to see exactly
how many conversions your PPC campaign is providing
each month.

SEO is notorious for being known as trickier to see
clear ROI but that should not be the case. Properly
set-up metrics and analytics will allow you to track
each conversion on your site. Each conversion should
be traceable and matched to the exact keyword
which created that conversion.


APRIL 2010

About WebMarketing123 is a full-service search marketing agency
dedicated to making our clients marketing heroes through
developing, implementing, and managing natural Search Engine
Optimization, Paid Search and Social Media campaigns for your
website. We help you:

Dramatically increase the quality and quantity of prospects
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Significantly improve the rate at which those visitors convert
to customers, and
Maximize the return on your marketing investment.

We believe in the power of search marketing, and we have a
dedicated and passionate team of SEO and PPC experts who are
committed to researching the most cutting edge search marketing
techniques. We make education of our team, clients, and prospective
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business grow, and in every interaction, our clients are increasingly
impressed by our knowledge, ability, and flawless execution.
Because of these high standards, you receive campaign strategies
and levels of client service that are world-class and you will achieve
results that exceed your marketing goal.

To find out how Webmarketing123 can help your business
increase site traffic and conversions, contact

Devon Paguio at